There was an hour before noon, and I was just about ready to get going.
Christmas came and went, and the ball was dropped on New Year’s with only the bare minimum of festivities. A party was held, but it was nothing fancy. We were all busy moving things around, getting settled, and easing into the recent administrative shakeups. It was work, but it was work that everyone wanted to get done.
And there was still much more work that we needed to get to.
“Police, arriving on scene after neighbors called nine-one-one, found Eliza Waller dead in her home. She was pregnant at the time.”
The TV buzzed in the background as I went around, a towel around my shoulders.
“This has been the fourth in a string of escalated murders that have taken place in the suburban communities around Stephenville, and is believed to be related to the riots that continue to plague the city.”
I opened a drawer, picking through the few shirts I had left. I already didn’t have much to choose from, but I wanted to avoid wearing the same thing twice in a row. I picked up the last clean shirt left, while keeping a mental note to do the laundry sometime soon.
“Starting from the Halloween Riots back in October of last year, to the riot and bombing of City Hall in November, to these attacks that target those from the Asian-American community, it has certainly been a tumultuous few months for the people of Stephenville.”
I had only taken a few seconds to flip through the handful of channels I had available, but I still ended up on this news broadcast. I could go change it, but it was more effort than it was worth.
It was just a guy monologuing, but his words and tone rubbed me the wrong way. Smarmy. He didn’t sound genuine. He wasn’t talking to his audience, he was pandering to them.
“And it’s actually easy to point to the very person that started this twisted chain of events. That’s right, the Bluemoon.”
I turned towards the TV, even though it was in another room. I was dressed, wearing a white shirt and black pants, but I’d need at least another layer before I stepped outside.
But, it was warm enough in the apartment, so I was fine for the moment. I left my towel on the metal frame at the foot of my bed, then walked out to the living room. I brushed some hair away, feeling it. My hair was still a bit damp, but it was also much shorter than it had ever been. It’d dry pretty fast.
“-has yet to make any official public appearance or statement about who she is or what she’s trying to accomplish. Can the Bluemoon be trusted? From what we’ve seen, and from all the collateral damage she’s caused, the answer must be a hard ‘no.’ The Bluemoon has taken no responsibility for all the destruction, and we’re left to pick up the pieces.”
‘She?’ Right. The attack at the school did blow that out into the open, but that was an unsubstantiated claim by a band of terrorists. At best, it was just a rumor. It didn’t stop people from rioting against those that looked like me, however, nor did it stop this guy from running with the idea that the Bluemoon was, in fact, a girl.
Well, he was right, but he didn’t know that.
And, what was with that bit of about picking up the pieces? If I remembered correctly, this guy was based in New York.
Give me a break.
The guy continued to ramble.
“Where does this lead for the city, and what does this mean for the country as a whole? Vigilantism is sweeping the nation as naïve, deluded kids play dress-up and imitate the Bluemoon, harassing good citizens and interrupting the due process of law. It’s all a game to them, and it trivializes the traditional, American values we all hold so dear.”
A game? Maybe he had a point, there. But we had our reasons. It wasn’t for entertaining ourselves, it was just easier to strategize, to plan, when thinking along those lines. Moving pieces in place, waiting for the opportune time to strike, learning how to bend the rules… and trying to be the top dog in the end. The winner.
A lot of it was logistics, preparations, actual work. None of it was fun, in the traditional sense.
I was standing in front of the TV, watching this young, admittedly handsome guy babble on about the old me. It was weird, watching everything that had happened turn into talking points for this guy’s noon talk show. Filtered, watered down. Didn’t seem real, coming from his mouth.
But it was real, his monologue was a result of what Alexis, I, we, had done.
And I was about to give him more things to talk about.
“-is a biology professor and researcher from the University of Texas at Austin, and James Gomez, the Chief of Police for the Stephenville Police Department. Gentlemen, good-”
A knock on the door. Then several. A rhythm.
There wasn’t a set code, but I already knew who it was, just from that.
I went to the door, keeping the TV on.
“You’re early this time,” I told D.
She was dressed for the weather. A large, poofy jacket, with the sleeves going past her hands, and the fleece on the collar brushing her cheeks. Her skirt inched out from the bottom of her jacket, with black tights and shoes to complete the look.
With a stuffed teddy bear she was hugging, she looked rather comfy.
“Hi Wendy,” she said, giving me her usual smile. “Just making up for last time.”
“Consider it made up. Come in.”
I stepped back to give her room, closing the door as she let herself in. We walked to the TV, D taking a small detour to drop off the bear on a counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. The bear was with her new family, all sitting together, as if to keep warm.
It was just a small, nothing joke I made after the second time she visited, after I moved in, but she seemed intent on keeping it going. The collection grew. At least they were made of fluff, through and through.
There was only one couch facing the TV, and D threw herself onto the cushions. She was small enough for me to sit without her shoes touching me. I stayed at one end of the couch, though, watching her.
“If you’re gonna lie down like that, you better take your shoes off.”
D unzipped her jacket, and started fanning herself. “Aw, you’re being strict about your new place. I’m happy.”
I crossed my arms. “I just don’t want you making a mess so soon. Next time, just keep your shoes at the door. I’ll get some slippers for you, later.”
Another thing on the list. Like doing the laundry.
“Alright, alright,” D said. She leaned over to reach her feet, undoing her shoelaces. She dropped her shoes onto the floor once she removed them.
As she went back down, she looked at the TV.
“This guy? You can do better than that.”
This guy was still rambling, but he had guests this time. Gomez was one of them. I was shocked to see that he agreed to appear on the show.
“No, Mr. Gomez, I’ll tell you what she is. She is a parasite, feeding off of the blood, sweat, and hard work that your-”
I stopped paying attention to what he, they, had to say. They wouldn’t have anything new to offer.
“I just happened on it,” I said. “I wasn’t really listening.”
“All these people do is just simple fearmongering. Making little old ladies clutch their purses even tighter. You want a real scare? Go up against a real journalist.”
“Or don’t,” D quickly added. “Not worth it.”
“Noted,” I said. I started looking around for the remote.
“At least Uncle J still looks okay,” D said. She made a face, then moved around on the couch. The channel flipped.
She reached underneath where she was sitting, between her and the seat. She pulled out the remote.
“Oh. That was… up there.”
She set the remote down, by her shoes. I didn’t have a coffee table to place anything, yet.
The channel got switched to some cartoon. Nothing I was personally familiar with. D started watching as she talked.
“How’s the place treating you so far? You like it?”
The place. My new apartment. It sat on the border of Eastside, a good distance from all the trouble brewing over there. It was about the same size as the old one, but living by myself gave me more room to stretch my legs.
One bedroom, one bathroom. A kitchen and living room that had shared the same space. It had a modern feel to it, if not utilitarian, with the muted color schemes of the walls and floors. There was a window on the far wall to let in some light, breaking up the monotony. But, beside some sun, there wasn’t much on the walls. Not yet. I had just moved in.
But, it was all mine. This was my apartment. The walls were larger, the ceilings higher, I had room, here. Freedom.
“I like it,” I said.
There was a pause, like I was supposed to say more, but I didn’t.
“But?” D asked.
“There’s no real ‘but’ to it, I’m just still getting used to the idea that the place is mine. My own room, my own bed, my own apartment. I never really felt like myself, back in that old place.”
“Still?” D questioned.
I know, but it was always her place, not mine, I thought.
“Here, I have freedom,” I said, reiterating that point to myself. “And yeah, it’s liberating, but it’s also more than I’m used to. I don’t know what to do with it.”
“You could try sprucing up the place,” D said, eyes still on the screen. “Put a painting up somewhere. Maybe another bear will do you some good.”
“I’m fine with the bears,” I said, giving her another reminder. Another reminder that she’d ignore. “But that’s the thing, I don’t even know what kind of painting I’d want. If I want something abstract, or a realistic painting of an apple, or whatever.”
“Apples can be good, they keep doctors away.”
I took it in stride. “How about an abstract painting of an apple?”
“There you go!” She moved around again, putting her hands behind her head, facing me. “But stuff like that costs money, which we’re all a little short on. A chunk of what the gang’s making is helping to let you sleep here, and keeping these lights running. As much as I get it, and as much as I want you to start doing some real decorating… it can wait.”
I sighed. “Yeah, it can.”
“But, how about you?” D asked, putting an emphasis on that last word. “How are you holding up?”
That question could be potentially loaded.
“What happens if I say I’m not?” I asked.
“Then you would be giving me a real scare, seriously.”
“Just kidding,” I said, probably faster than I intended. “That’s not what I meant. I’m holding up fine, considering I threw away the entirety of my previous life. Still wrapping my head around this being the new normal.”
“It’ll take some getting used to, for sure. You’ll feel better once you start personalizing your space, and if you’re ever feeling down, you have them, and more importantly, you have me.”
D grinned again, showing teeth, her eyes closed.
I have D, right. Doubt the others are willing to lend a shoulder to cry on, though.
I wasn’t sure where I stood with D. Not entirely. Friends? Probably wouldn’t go that far. I’d gotten more familiar with her over the past month, with her coming over at pretty regularly, maybe three to four times a week. Never asked her to, she kept inviting herself, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn down her company. At worst, she bugged me like any little kid would. At best, I appreciated her being around.
Maybe we weren’t exactly best friends yet, but I saved her life, and she saved mine. That was more than most friends ever did for each other.
There was, however, a part of her that creeped me out, which was a weird thing to admit out loud. She was just a little girl. On principle, she was harmless. But looking at it that way was too simple. She wasn’t just a little girl, she was D. The person who stole and drove Hleuco’s van, who led me to the Ghosts, and helped bring Benny and The Chariot to their knees. All with some firecrackers and a tablet. That was reason enough to be wary of her.
I was just lucky she was on my side.
“Noted,” I said again.
D had gone back to staring at the TV, flipping through the channels herself. I didn’t have much, and with each consecutive cycle, D was looking more and more bored.
“How’d you do it?” I asked.
“Do what?” she said, listless, eyes still on the screen.
We still had time before we had to go. And D was a curious little thing.
“How old were you when you struck out on your own?” I asked. “What’s your… I dunno, your origin story?”
D scratched the underside of the chin. “Origin story? Am I a superhero now, too?”
“You are pretty super,” I said. I couldn’t help it.
I swore I saw her blush.
“Thank you,” she said, her expression cheeky. She actually sounded like a kid, there.
“Wait, no,” I said. “I’m talking about how you got into all of this stuff in the first place. How you… ended up here, doing this?”
D dropped that childlike demeanor she had just before. Neutral, blank.
And that freaked me out.
“I know,” I said. “I’ve asked this before.”
“And I think I did a pretty good job dancing around it the first time,” she said. “I’ve got a similar routine lined up, now, if you want to hear it.”
I didn’t quite catch it then, but I certainly did now. That was definitely her tell. Acting hyper self-aware about herself in order to avoid the subject, especially if that subject was her. Maybe it was her way of being cute, or maybe it was a feint to get me off track from another thing. I couldn’t put it past D.
Maybe she knew that I knew.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? All these head games…
“Sore spot?” I asked, as if to test things.
D’s eyes hardened, her jaw set. Didn’t seem like it should be menacing, coming from her, but it did. I felt it.
Probably shouldn’t get her so pissed off before we headed out.
“The sorest,” D replied, hard.
Too late. She was pissed.
I spread my arms. “Okay, fine, I promise I won’t ask anymore, unless you decide to bring it up first. Everyone’s different. I shared my story, or at least the more relevant parts, but that doesn’t mean you have to tell me yours. But I just want to know how you deal.”
“Deal?” she asked.
“Like, when you first started out, how did you handle being on your own? Were you always on your own?”
I couldn’t read D’s expression anymore. If she was still upset, or just down.
D answered with a shrug. A second passed. And then another second passed, and I knew I wasn’t getting much else out of her.
I decided to drop the subject. We didn’t need this, not right now.
“Sorry, I know I keep pushing it, but that’s because I do like you, D, and you’ve been a big help, especially when I was trying to find Benny. And, since we’ll be working together for the foreseeable future, I’d like to know the girl who’ll have my back. Us ladies have to stick together, you know.”
D looked at me, blinking.
“You like me?”
My hands went to my hips, and I gave her a stern look.
“It was a rocky road, getting there, you did steal my van.”
“I was borrowing it.”
She also nearly drove that same van off a parking garage, but I decided not to bring that up.
D breathed, relaxing just a bit. “It’s not like I don’t get where you’re coming from. I like you, too, and there are things I’d like to tell you about, it’s just…”
D nodded. “Not now. But that doesn’t mean never. I promise.”
“I’m holding you to that, then.”
“I’m okay with that,” D said, shrugging. “And hey, maybe we can even be more than friends, later down the road.”
She said that part with a wink.
It was involuntary, but I felt my cheeks warm up. And it wasn’t the air conditioning.
“What does, what?” I asked.
“Anyways, going back to your main point, you just take it a day at a time, figure out what you want to do, what you need to do, and how to do it. And it’s important to learn what you like, finding hobbies outside of all the other stuff. For me, it just so happens that I like all this stuff, so everyday is like being on the playground.”
She completely ignored me. But she also gave me what I asked for in the first place. I’d let it slide.
“Taking it a day at a time… seems obvious, it’s a good reminder. Thanks.”
“You got it,” D said, grabbing for the remote. She turned off the TV.
“We should probably get going,” she said, getting up from the couch.
“Is it time already?” I asked. I realized I didn’t have my watch on. I thought to where I placed it last. On the drawer, facing the bed. My sweater and coat were ready in the closet, along with my mask. The old, painted-over Blank Face one. Not ideal, but it would have to do for the time being.
“We’ll be early, which normally for me is a big no, but they’ll appreciate the gesture. A show of faith.”
“Good point. Let’s go.”
We got to moving, but in different directions. D went to the kitchen counter, and I went back to my room.
“You still don’t have anything in here!” D yelled out. She was talking about my refrigerator.
I was putting on my sweater, then grabbing for my jacket as I answered. “I told you I don’t have much use for it!”
“I got it for me! You need to start putting some snacks in here, like ice cream! Or cake! Or ice cream cake!”
“Next time, or just bring food yourself so you can keep it in there!”
I heard a noise. A guttural, but childlike moan.
I crouched in front of a box in the corner of the closet. Heavy, made of hard plastic, with different locks and latches on it. I took my time getting through them all.
The last latch cracked open, and I was face to face with my mask. Nothing else was in there.
I closed the box. I wouldn’t bring it. A show of faith.
I grabbed the rest of my things. Wallet, watch, and phone. I stepped out of my room, and met up with D by the counter.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Sure. Let’s make a stop along the way, I am starved.”
“Won’t that take time?”
“It will. Looks like we won’t be early, anymore. We’ll just be… on time.”
Busy. People pushing past each other, orders getting yelled. Clanking metal and fires sizzling. A flavorful aroma that attacked my senses. A sort of frenetic energy, that, if I wasn’t an active participant, I’d feel like I was in the way. A bother.
I wasn’t an active participant. Not in that regard, anyways.
Probably wasn’t the best idea to hold a meeting in a kitchen during peak hours.
It was me, D, and Lawrence. We were in Casa Martinez, sitting at the table in the far back of the kitchen. Workers, cooks, and waiters and other staff were darting around to get things done. Put food on the table of waiting, hungry customers. They all worked smoothly, too, moving like a well-oiled machine. Mrs. Martinez ran a tight ship, around here.
Which made me feel even more in the way, even more like a bother. We had made quite a mess, back during our standoff against The Chariot. The vents got fucked, bullet holes and casings littered the floor, and that was on top of Lawrence bleeding all over the place. Mrs. Martinez wasn’t happy when she came back the next morning.
If we wanted to keep using her restaurant as a place to meet, she brought down some new rules on our heads. No activities after hours, and no meetings when she couldn’t keep an eye on us. We’d been effectively grounded.
Lawrence had a plate out in front of him, taking the occasional bite of a beef enchilada, topped with some chili con carne. D was finishing up some leftover fries from the trip here.
I didn’t have anything for myself.
“You sure you’re good?” Lawrence asked, glancing at the empty space in front of me.
“I am,” I said. “I ate before I left, she didn’t.”
“I hafd-” D started, but she coughed.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I told her.
She took a sip of her drink, and wiped her mouth with a napkin. Then she finally got out what she meant to say.
“I had a light breakfast.”
“Eat more for breakfast then. You’re still growing.”
Lawrence looked at me and D. “The hell was that?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Let’s get started.”
Lawrence put down his fork, nodding. “Well, there’s good news and bad news.”
“That’s your starting bit?” D asked.
“Shut up.” He grumbled. “Now it feels awkward to ask which one you want first.”
“Let’s go with the good news,” I said. “No reason not to.”
“Okay, well, the good news is that we’re still up and running. What we got out of Benny is enough to keep us going for a bit longer.”
“So we have time to figure out our next move?”
“Exactly. The dust has settled over East Stephenville, mostly. We blew up half the neighboring gang’s bases, and sparked whatever tensions were going on between them. There’s still some quarrels that flare up here and there, but one cop car comes by, and everyone disperses. A lot of attention is on the city, now more than ever. People are trying to behave themselves. Trying.”
“And no one’s starting to suspect us?”
Lawrence shook his head. “It’s been some time, and nothing’s come up, so I don’t think it’ll be an issue, anymore. It helps that you dropped Benny off to a third party.”
“It helps that D dropped her off,” I said. “I can’t take credit for that part.”
“Done on neutral ground, taking turns,” D said. “We moved her there, left for thirty minutes, and when I came back, the cash was in her place. Clean, no questions asked.”
My thoughts wandered to Benny. I wondered where she was now, if she was even still alive. I wondered who exactly picked her up.
The less I know, the better.
It was easier to think that way.
“And the bad news?” I asked.
“The bad news,” Lawrence said, “Is the good news, looking at it from a different perspective. We’re still up and running, we’ve got money, but its not going to last forever. And we can’t keep taking from old, forgotten staches and selling at a discount. That’s not good business.”
“You don’t have anyone to supply us with stuff? Our own manufacturer?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t have been in this situation to begin with. I wouldn’t have had to go to D for weight, and I wouldn’t have needed to accept your offer to work together.”
“Okay, so we just find one.”
Lawrence grumbled again. “If it was that easy… you know where I’m going with this.”
“Ah!” D had taken another swig of her drink. “Think about it this way. Stephenville is like a port city for gangs, mobs, and cartels. They send a group of their own to set up shop in the city, and act as representatives. Diplomats, if it comes down to it. And in turn, those gangs, mobs, and cartels act as sponsors, providing money, supplies, and reputation. And depending on who’s your sponsor…”
“It comes with some real good perks,” I said.
“Yup, and if you have a really good sponsor, you get a seat at the table, and a legitimate word in how things get run.”
“That’s quite the system,” I said. “How does something like that even get started?”
D and Lawrence shared a look.
“Mister,” D said.
At that metaphorical table, he would be sitting at the head. The man on top, above everyone else. A spider, really, at the center of the web, sensitive to any pull or tug on its many threads, aware of any bug that happened to get trapped inside.
That, was how Benny put it, when I asked her.
There wasn’t much else known about him. His name, his face, his identity, they all drew up blanks. From what I’d heard, and from reactions I got whenever he was brought up gave credence to the fact that he was real…
He seemed more like a boogeyman than the lynchpin of the city.
But, if we were going to do this, and Mister was real, and at the center of it all, we couldn’t get caught in those webs.
Had to play it smart. Had to be… whatever ate spiders.
“Getting back on track,” I said, “Is it even viable, getting a sponsor?”
Lawrence cut into his enchilada, taking a bite. He spoke while he ate, but he didn’t sound stuffed. “Honestly, I don’t think so. Sponsors aren’t generous enough to support two gangs, and they’re not looking to adopt, either.”
“What about The Chariot? Who was their sponsor, again?”
Lawrence laughed, or rather he scoffed. “El Tunante, leader of La Rueda. Yeah, don’t think so. Aside from the fact that we’re too far removed from them, do you think El Tunante is going to want to support the nobodies that sold out his best representative, and threatened his nephew to do it?”
“Nope,” I said.
“That bridge has long been burned. Unless we get very lucky with someone else, it’s not happening.”
“Damn,” I said. “There has to be something we can do. Not every gang has a sponsor though, right?”
“Lots operate the more traditional way, sure, but they’re all small fries.”
D said that as she ate a small fry.
“Then we can muscle in on some of the smaller of those fries,” I ventured. “Get whoever makes for them… make for us, instead.”
Lawrence set his fork down, looking right at me. “You have to understand, we are the smallest fry in the city. We may have gotten some green thanks to Benny, but comparatively, that still puts us in the yellow. If we make too-big a move, and it doesn’t work…”
He snapped his fingers.
“We’re snuffed out, just like that.”
“But we’re not in the red, though,” I said. “You have me. And we have some of the weapons that The Chariot were secretly staching.”
“A crate of high-end pistols, and half a crate of some nice rifles,” D said. “We got four big boys left, too. But let’s save those for a bad day. Or a really good one.”
I gestured towards D. “See? It’s something.”
Lawrence turned, flagging down a passing waiter. He lifted his glass, and the waiter understood.
He turned back to me.
“Look, um, Wendy-”
“It’s V, this time, we’re on the clock.”
“Fuck, that’s confusing. Anyway, V, I appreciate you still trying to help us, I do, but…”
“But why?” he asked. “I didn’t get a chance ask earlier, since I was on my ass, recovering, but why throw yourself into all this shit? You’re young, you have powers. Shit, without that, you still have your whole life ahead of you. Why commit to this?”
The kitchen worked, the sounds of people and metal crashing together. It was hard to gather my thoughts for a question like that, in a place like this.
But I had to try.
“Because I tried normal, I tried regular. It didn’t work. It’s like trying to fit a square into a circle hole. It won’t fit, and if you try to force it, things break. With this, I know what I’m getting into, I know where I fit. Perhaps, in a past life, I wasn’t built for this, wasn’t made for this. But I am, now. I have talents that make me valuable. I’m capable. And now that I can put my focus onto this full-time, I can actually make progress. Move forward.”
It was a long, rambling answer, but Lawrence seemed to accept it. He sat back, and the waiter came by to refill his drink. The waiter left, and Lawrence managed to down half his glass before speaking again.
“I guess I can live with that. It’s just, it’s going to have to take some getting used to, working with both the heartless bitch that made my life a living hell, and the ex-hero who got me into this mess to begin with.”
D covered her face with a napkin. “You flatter me too much, Lawrence.”
“Shut it,” he said.
“We worked well together, when it came down to it,” I said. “I think we even managed to surprise each other.”
I received nods from the two.
But it was true, I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised, at that. D managed to prove her usefulness, setting up the plan to smoke out Benny, and saving us when I was cornered by Benny in this very kitchen. Lawrence, too, proved himself as well. Back when we started this, when we were just a coalition, I had thought of Lawrence and his Ghosts as pawns. Now, I knew that Lawrence was more capable than that. He kept Benny in place, buying me time to get back to the restaurant, and turned the tables by tricking her. With all our history, our baggage with each other, we managed to make it work.
And that was worth acknowledging.
“So, I think we can do this,” I said. “We can pull it off.”
“I fuckin’ hope so,” Lawrence said. “Shit, getting Benny was supposed to make things easier.”
“It’s never going to be easy,” D said. “But that’s what makes it fun.”
“Fun?” Lawrence questioned. “Fuck, I’m fucked, aren’t I?”
I intervened. “Let’s call it a day, for now, before D stresses you out too much. You’re still recovering. We know what the problems are, and we have time to think about some solutions. Things are settled down. It’s peace, relatively. Let’s take advantage of that.”
“Sure thing,” D said, balling up her paper bags and napkins, getting ready to toss them away.
“Fine. I do have to get back to my Ghosts, anyway. I just don’t like walking away here without a clear plan in mind.”
“We’ll figure it out,” I said, more just for him, so he could take it easy.
It seemed like I got the last word in for the meeting. We got up from the table, thanked Mrs. Martinez and her staff for the meal and hospitality, and we split up from there. Lawrence went through the front door, while D and I took the back exit.
“Do you think Lawrence will take it easy?” I asked, walking to the van. Not the van D stole after she trashed Hleuco’s, but rather it was Hleuco’s. Lawrence got his men to patch it up, repair some parts, refurbish it, and gave it back, as thanks for D taking care of him after he got wounded. But, he didn’t want us to mention it, or he’d string us up. “You know him better than I do.”
“He’s not the kind of guy that likes to stand still. It’s why he was willing to go to me when he was running out of options. It’s why he ended up agreeing with your initial idea to work together. He’ll do anything to take a step forward.”
“Not a bad mentality, but that can easily lead to trouble.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” D said. Again, she winked. “I can keep an eye on him.”
We reached the van, and took our respective sides. D got in the driver’s seat, and I rode shotgun.
I had to warn D. “Careful. At best, he’s tolerating you being around.”
“He’s tolerating us.”
“Like I said, don’t give him a reason to immediately drop you. I need you on this.”
D started up the van, humming to life. Good as new.
“Aw, would you miss me?”
“I would,” I said, without skipping a beat.
D backed out, leaving the parking lot, getting onto the street. Eastside seemed to have bounced back from our shakeup pretty well. People were strolling on the sidewalks, traffic was moving along at a decent pace. It was as if nothing had ever happened.
“Want me to drop you off back at your place?” D asked.
I thought about it.
“No, sun’s still up. I’ll take advantage of this time, too.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Just tell me where.”
I looked at the side view mirror as we turned, Casa Martinez in the back. The restaurant disappeared as we rounded the corner.
As far as territory went, that was the extent of it. There was so much that needed to get done.
A lot of work, running a gang.